A Case Study of British Film Industry

Nowadays the share of immaterial exchange in economy is increasing and developing into a central of national economy. Culture as the most important part of this immaterial production is already becomes an industry to doing business in the contemporary word. In Britain, this industry covers 5% of national GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and employs almost 1. 3 million of the population. This essay will draw a brief picture of cultural industries at first and then further examines this in the filed of British film industry.

The first part of this essay is to explain what is cultural industry, it will start with introduce the early theory of cultural industry then follows by look at the content of this. During the 1930s, the Frankfurt school coined the term ‘cultural industry’ to signify the process of the industrialization of mass-produced culture and the commercial imperatives which drove the system. Horkheimer and Adorno, who were the member of this school, first introduced this idea in a book called Dialectic of Enlightenment  in 1947.

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In order to argue that the arts were not independent of industry and commerce, in this work they analyzed all mass-mediated cultural objects within the context of industrial production, in which the commodities of the cultural industries exhibited the same features as other products of mass production: produced to make profit. In their book Horkheimer and Adorno explained the culture industry form both how culture had been industrialized and how cultural products were created and consumed.

For them, the culture industry made ‘art’ and ‘life’ were no longer separate since it produces standardized products to meet the large demands of the social economy. Since cultural industry is production based on meaning contents, it is general covers all the commodity productions that marketed by cultural meaning. It involves both the fields of traditional and modern art and culture from artistic creation to distribution. In this case, cultural industry covers many areas, such as literature, music, architecture, theatre, cinema, and other fields of creative art.

It also includes the production and distribution systems of art and culture, such as publishing books, newspapers and magazines, music in recorded and printed form, programme production, galleries and museums, as well as all kind production of cultural content. The second part of this essay is going to discuss cultural industries through British film industry. Cinema and film as a traditional media in Britain for over a century and reaching the entire nation becomes an important distribution channel for cultural industry. Cinema was invented during the Victorian time in the 1890’s.

The first public cinema exhibition in Britain was organized by the Lumiere brothers, who were a representative of the French producers, at Marlborough Hall in Regent Street, London, on 21 February 1896. At the same year, British manufacturer Robert Paul invented the first film projector to be placed on the open market. (Sarah Street, 1997) In the early stage of British film industry, during the year 1896-1906, many thousands of short films were exhibited in music halls since film-maker sold their works to traveling showmen and music hall exhibitors.

As it became popular there were some first theatres built in the year 1907 that particularly for film shown and the number of cinemas rose dramatically since then. Especially in the 1930’s British film industry had a prosperous time which attracted more and more people went to cinemas. This mainly because the style of ‘documentary’ film was introduced by John Grierson, a Scottish film-maker, made films from the records of everyday life. This is one of the most characteristic types of British film and has influenced film-making around the word.

However, the number of cinema audience was going done between 1950’s and early 1980’s. According the Handbook of British Film Industry in 1996, the decline in admissions from 1,635 million in 1946 to 54 million in 1984. This was not only due to the impact of TV and the change of the society need new leisure patterns other than cinema, but also the lack of investment makes British film industry unable to compete with wealthy Hollywood studios.

Since Channel 4 were founded in 1982, it has became an other big chain of British film industry which offer more specialized film programmers, old films as well as foreign films. After a brief history, the following part will further examine British film industry as a example of cultural industries. Being an important part of cultural industries, British film industry involves both audience and artist. In the book Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno pointed out that ‘talented performers belong to the industry long before it displays them; otherwise they would not be so eager to fit in.

The attitude of the public, which ostensibly and actually favors the system of the cultural industry, is part of the system and not an excuse for it,’ both of them are not independence but ‘inherent in the technical and personnel apparatus which, down to its last cog, itself forms part of the economic mechanism of selection. ‘ (Simon During 1993:33) This can be seen from the British film industry which both activities of the audiences (consumers) and producers (artists) are interact each other. On the one hand, good film products can attract large number of audiences and have a big market.

As film is a way to express culture, those films which mark its own cultural identity can be outstanding in massive produces. In other word, since Britain has a long history and rich culture, the national identity is a selling point of British films. If we turn the sound off, the most things to recognize the nationality of a film is from its background scenery and the way people dressing. Those typical British architectures, particularly in London, such as Big Ben, London Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace; and the traditional costume during the Victorian time can clear mark the ‘Britishness’ of a film.

The beautiful landscape, majestic appearance and heroic posture, like the film ‘ Breaveheart’ which was highly-praised among audiences , are also the attractions of the British film industry. In addition to these appearances, some of films can catch the attention of audiences from the content. The most popular ones are the adaptations of famous British literatures , especially the classic novels of 19th century and Shakespeare’s works. Take Jane Austen, one of the symbol novelists in 19th century, as an example, the film adaptation of her ‘Proud and Prejudice’ once reached the top list of the British box-office in 1995.

Meanwhile, the adaptations of Shakespeare’s work, from the most famous ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to his own life ‘Shakespeare in love’, are always welcomed by huge audiences. British cinema started to use the native novel tradition as a vast resource in the film industry. Apart from these, there also some films in Britain that come out in the form of series make profit of the industry from time to time. The most successful one is James Bond’s series which has been tremendously popular since it began in 1962. From the first one, ‘Dr. No’, Bond’s films set the standard that would be repeated for the next four decades; the combination of Bond a typical English gentleman with black suit and tie, Girls, Guns and explosions grabs the attention and gives an overall impression of the film itself. There are 20 films of this series shown on during the last 40 years and it still hold the most popular position in cinema, the latest one Die Another Day has surpassed the US$400 million mark in its world-wide take. This kind of film series is become more and more popular recently in British film industry.

This product of cultural industry is able to have a long-term market that the audiences are always expecting next one. Such as the ‘Harry Potter’ films, starts with the first adaptation of JK Rowling’s books: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone last year went on to achieve the second highest international gross of all time behind Titanic, taking £618m at the box office this series tend to have a bright future market in the film industry. On the other hand, apart from being recognized by mass audiences, market decisions have a considerable influence on film industry.

The content of market have two aspects: one is the supply of production, the other is the reception of product (audiences) . The production of films needs supply in finance, technical and artist. Compare to the lack of investment in British film industry, American Hollywood has a much better condition for film industry. Hollywood’s ascendancy has a profound impact on the British film industry from production to exhibition. If we look into the inside of the Harry Potter films, technicians and crew for these films are mainly British, while the director and production team is mainly American.

Harry Potter may well head the list as the most successful British film of all time at the UK box office, but its profits are bound for America, not Britain. The paradox goes that while there is definitely a film industry in Britain, it is much harder to find the thing called the British Film Industry . With American money acting as a crutch for British production it can be argued that some British films were compromised by pandering to the US market. On the aspect of the reception end, the attitude of the public audiences ‘which ostensibly and actually favors the system of the cultural industry’ (Simon During 1993 ).

The customers of film industry prefer to pay tickets for their favorite film starts. It is not hard to find a name from Hollywood’s wealth of brilliant actors actor/actress or directors in British films, the achievement of the film Notting Hills in 1999’s British cinema is one example of this. One of the pleasures to be had in this film is dealing with Hollywood and the star attractions, Julia Roberts who has starred in many of Hollywood’s most successful films is a key element made this film popular.

Recently, the rise in popularity of other cultures, especially Asia, becomes a new preference of public audiences in Britain. The Asian film industry had a remarkable year in the UK. From films aimed at mainly Asian audiences like Mohabbatein, came films aimed at cross-over audiences including The Warrior, Lagaan, Monsoon Wedding, Bend it Like Beckham. Even some typical British films are involving some Asia actors/actresses, such as the Chinese Bond girl in James Bone’s Tomorrow Never Die.

The Asia culture as a distinctive image from western becomes a new market of film industry in Britain. From the influence of Hollywood and Asia culture it can be seen that it is difficult to talk about ‘Britishness’ as a separate culture that just appears on it own. Various global processes make the British films less obviously autonomous but more mixed-up with other cultures, this could the requirement of the producers as well as public audiences’ prevalent views of culture.

In conclusion, from the case of British film industry, the bases for determining cultural industries are mainly related to commercial success, mass audiences and the reproducibility of works of art. From one side, these industries were already increasingly satisfying people’s demand for the arts and entertainment through the production of cultural content. At the same time, they are market orientated industries which producing cultural material, distributing and presenting it through various media in a purpose of making money.